MS Office isn’t the leader in its class by accident. When I paid out for the upgrade, I fully expected a top class word processor, a powerful spread sheet, an integrated email / contact manager / diary and a powerful presentation tool. What’s more, I fully expected to be able to easily switch between and combine the four tools. MS Office didn’t let me down.
However, for most people, the decision to buy MS Office rather than one of its competitors has already been made for them. Why? Because like it or not, MS Office has become something of a world standard.
I know that if I prepare my slides in PowerPoint, there’s a strong chance that most places I go to are going to be able to fix me up with a computer to show them. If I buy a new mobile phone or PDA, it’s a good bet that it will come with software that “synchronises” with Microsoft Outlook. And the last time I saw a spreadsheet that wasn’t prepared in Excel was in the 80's.
In fact, I can hardly remember the last time anyone emailed me a document which wasn’t either PDF or MS-Office based.
The truth is, most people are stuck with MS Office, and if you’re going to be forced to have one product, it might as well be this one.
Having said all that, I do have my gripes (hence the 3 stars).
Firstly, I’m not sure whether this product really takes you to the next level.
There’s no arguing that things have moved on since the days of typewriters, when you had to find Tippex the right colour to match the paper you had, and then retype your mistakes to correct them. Remember when you had to print a document out from your word processor to see what it looked like without all those “back-slash B’s” for ‘bold’ and “back-slash C’s” for ‘centred text’? And the time was when spreadsheets had about a dozen functions, and a maximum formula length of 25 characters, and you needed columns and columns of formulae hidden away just to do simple calculations.
So yes, things have improved. But what about this product as an “upgrade”? How does it compare, for example to MS Office 97? Sure, you have rounder fuzzier edges, and more colourful icons. On the practical side, I’ve managed to do fairly extensive work with tables without the whole thing coming to a shuddering halt, and I can have several documents open and several panes on the screen without a noticeable slow down (although that may in part be down to a more powerful PC).
But for normal home use, I can put my finger on very few things which have changed dramatically since two (or is it three?) versions ago. Although I don’t doubt that it is packed with extra features, these are not features which will change the life of this home user.
In fact, the only thing that I would say is markedly improved is PowerPoint, which now has capabilities that some dedicated graphics programmes would be proud of. If snazzy slides is what you're after, I doubt if you can do much better than PowerPoint.
So why upgrade? Well, if you’re like me, and your new PC shipped with Microsoft Works rather than Microsoft Office, the good news is that you probably qualify for this upgrade. If you need PowerPoint for slides, graphics or presentations, and your “hand held” won’t synchronise with Outlook Express, you may just want to bite the bullet, and pay the ludicrous price. Cheaper than buying the product new, but to my mind way over the odds. The correct price should be nearer what students and teachers are asked to pay, particularly if you have already bought the product before.
If you have an earlier version of MS Office, and that already does what you need, you should ask yourself whether you really need this upgrade at this price.